A phobia is a clinical term that is used to describe an irrational and persistent fear of certain objects, situations, activities, or persons. These fears are beyond one’s control and may interfere with one’s daily activities. There are many forms of phobias, and they can be a fear of something specific such as the fear of flying, or fear of social interaction. Other examples of this disorder may involve fear of small animals, closed spaces, and snakes. Medical experts estimate that at least five percent of the entire U.S. population has one or more clinically diagnosed fear disorder. A phobia usually begins at home and persists into adulthood. Some of these conditions if not treated may debilitate a person.
Hypochondria or hypocondriasis is a kind of phobia that refers to an excessive preoccupation or worry about having serious ailments. Often, this kind of condition persists even after a health professional has already evaluated and established that there is really no problem with the hypochondriac’s health. Hypochondria is often characterized by a person’s fears that minor bodily symptoms could be signs of a severe health problem. The person afflicted with hypochondria would often undertake self-examination and self-diagnosis, which are signs of over-preoccupation with one’s health and body. To hypochondriacs, every lump is cancer, every cough is lung disease, every change in one’s routine may mean that one’s health is on the decline. Many hypochondriacs worry about having the most severe ailments without any of the risk factors. There are no specific causes of hypochondria, it occurs in men and women with equal frequency.
Other symptoms of hypochondria may include:
• Misinterpretation of symptoms;
• Symptoms that may shift and change;
• Symptoms that may be vague or specific;
• No physical disorder that can account for symptoms; and
• Psychological or emotional disturbance that may last for six months or more.
Depression also contributes to the development of hypochondria due to the disruption of brain chemicals called serotonin. There is a possibility that the physical symptoms that are felt by hypochondriacs are triggered by neurochemical changes or changes in the serotonin levels. Too little serotonin may cause depression and fatigue. Reduction in the serotonin levels is caused by lack of sleep, sunlight, exercise, and poor nutrition. Adjustments in one’s lifestyle improve neurochemical levels and improve one’s health.
While it is a good thing to be aware of any changes in one’s body, being too conscious may hamper one’s quality of life. The stress and anxiety of always worrying about sickness may one’s life miserable. People with hypochondria fail to appreciate their overall health because they never believe that they are healthy.
A supportive relationship with a health professional, family members, and friends is essential in treating persons with hypochondria. There should only be one health professional that is in charge of the patient. This professional should inform the patient that there is no disease that is present and persistent medical follow-up may help control any symptoms. Hypochondriacs feel real distress, that is why it is important not to deny or challenge any symptoms.
There is help available for those who suffer from hypochondria. Remedies like cognitive therapy or anti-depression medication, people with hypochondria may not have to live in fear of illness, With help, they may once again enjoy good health and quality of life that they are afraid to lose.
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